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sweet and lucky 2
Photo: Adams Visual Communications
To say that life is sweet and we are lucky is a sentiment reserved for the days spent looking backward. Rare are the moments spent fully present, when the experience and appreciation collide. This summer, in a 16,000 square feet warehouse in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood, a confluence of elements comes together to create a unique experience where life comes alive and the past is fully present. Presented by DCPA Off Center in collaboration with Third Rail Projects, Sweet & Lucky is a theatrical time ballet exploring the nature of love, memory and the objects that connect us to both. Lush, romantic, universal, metaphoric and delightful― there is magic happening here and you feel it.

Describing the event without giving too much away- not in plot spoilers, but careful not to interfere- is tricky for this is immersion theatre. Rather than the traditional sitting-in-the-dark-watching-actors-tell-the-story or the interactive style of Tony & Tina’s Wedding, Sweet & Lucky invites you into its world, takes your hand and guides you through it, while leaving space for the sound of your soul to fill the silence.

It is a story of love through decades and the moments that ultimately define us. My first venture into Sweet & Lucky took me on a deeply personal journey as touchstones of the central relationship reveal the heartaches, kisses, treasures and gratitude that make a life. Audience members are allowed to snoop around in the lovers’ psyches; reading letters, guessing outcomes, drinking in the ambiance a taste of the Sweet & Lucky cocktail created by Williams & Graham mixologist, Sean Kenyon.

Everyone starts together in the huge warehouse space, culled into smaller groups, and moved room-to-room as the twelve performer piece unfolds. Each room is its own environment, designed to evoke engagement through the senses with exquisite visuals, tasks, scents and “audio texture”, contributing to a deeply moving and dream-like evening, bearing witness to the core of the story and finding resonance in your own.

Given the opportunity to return, I took my son, August Witherspoon, curious to see how the evening would play in his open, twenty-two-year-old heart and compared notes over a cocktail in the post-show speakeasy. A few questions led us to the realization that we’d each tracked a different cast-

So we saw different actors playing the same story? I like that, and how you were left to fill in the blanks in what happened; we got different views of the same play. I love how as you’re taken from scene to scene, you start to notice trending objects; symbols and motifs become apparent the further along into the story you progress and wrap around again. Like how every sense is pleasantly utilized, from smelling the chamomile and lavender to the taste of the same herbs in the cocktail. I felt these things starting to have an effect on me― they were not only connecting the story together but they started connecting me to my own memories. You’re watching this story, putting together the pieces and becoming introspective into your own memories of loved ones. That’s never happened to me at the theatre. I realized how many memories I’ve made in my short time on this Earth, many of which I hadn’t thought of since the events themselves. It really makes you wonder what creates a memory, and how the more memories you make with someone, the closer you become with them. I guess that’s why they seem to never dissipate.

How true my son. We’re just spinning around on a rock amid the stars, without reason, making all the memories we can. Sweet.

SWEET & LUCKY is produced by DCPA’s Off Center, a commission of Brooklyn-based Third Rail Projects. Running through August 7 (at which time it must close) tickets are limited, non-transferable, and available at 303.893.4100 or online at www.denvercenter.org

“Let’s Dance…”rsz_rock_ballets_photo

Wonderbound had scheduled the Rock Ballets into their 2016 season well before the world heard the news. In a perfect confluence of time and space, sound and vision, Artistic Director Garrett Ammon’s ballets, set to the music of David Bowie and Queen take flight a month after the legendary artist’s ascent. The popular program has been here before, but you haven’t seen it like this.

Not only will the Wonderbound supernova perform these stunning works, the music will be played live by a supergroup comprised of Denver’s Chimney Choir and  the Ian Cooke Band.The music of Queen and David Bowie will be featured along with original tunes by both bands.

Can you imagine the kinetic imagination of Garrett Ammon set free to the lyrical strains of Queen’s “Love of My Life”? Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it so I’m sure that when the dancers take stage for “Bohemian Rhapsody” I’ll be in tears, and “We Are The Champions” should give me a chance to pick myself up off of the floor.Ammon’s star shines in “An Occasional Dream,” delving into one of the most famous tales of history and Bowie’s edgier songs, “Life On Mars,” “Time” and “Space Oddity” while Wonderbound Company Artist Sarah Tallman opens the night with her creation , “Unbroken Sky”. This world premiere will feature songs created by the supergroup septuplet of Chimney Choir and Ian Cooke Band and will evoke the explosion of the Beatnik generation.*snaps*

 “We are very excited to be a part of ​ Rock Ballets ​ . It will be a lot of fun to team up with Ian Cooke Band and reinvent some of the classics.“  – Kevin Larkin, Chimney Choir 

And if that’s not enough, Leon Gallery  has curated Denver Artist Mario Zoots for an exclusive exhibition of new works exploring themes from old Rolling Stones issues from the Bowie and Queen eras. (Oh great, now I belong to an ‘era’).

Rock  Ballets ​opens February 13 and will run for five (5) performances throughout Denver. More information on the production can be found at wonderbound.com​ .
If you can’t wait, stop by a limited seating Teaser at the Wonderbound Studio at Junction Box, for a taste of what the full-length performance will hold. Teaser #9 is on February 2, 2016 at 6:30 pm.

rsz_winterThe Denver holiday season is upon us, a time when the darkest days lean toward the light, and heaven knows we need it. The past month tempts me to turn off the news, flop on the couch and Kurl up with the Kardashians but I’m craving a more fulfilling escape. Something sweet. Something magical. Something with the power to remind me of more innocent times and feel better about the state of mankind. I need a miracle.

Philip Pleasants as Ebenezer Scrooge. DCPA. Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Koskinen

Philip Pleasants as Ebenezer Scrooge. DCPA. Photo Credit: Jennifer M. Koskinen

I’ll start with a stroll through the lights, lots of ’em. Denver Zoo has doubled the size of the Zoo Lights and if the weather allows me to feel my fingers, perhaps my heart will melt a bit, warmed by the artistry and cocoa.

Charles Dickens favorite ghost story, A Christmas Carol, haunts the Denver Center once more. This year’s wassail will be just a bit sweeter as Philip Pleasants takes his bow as Ebenezer Scrooge. Delighting Denver audiences for the past eleven years, Pleasants feels it’s time to put the Ghost of Christmas Past behind him. Now, I’ve seen this show. I’ve read the book, I’ve seen the movies—from Albert Finney to Michael Cain—and I’ve never been more delighted than watching the talented Mr. Pleasants explore the complexities of the human soul. Truly despicable, authentically redeemed, I’m not sure there’s a more apt Christmas story for the 2015 holiday season.

One winter’s tale is sure to sweep me away as Garrett Ammon’s magpie lands on the windowsill once more. Wonderbound’s Winter is a stunning gothic fairytale of love’s loss, the fire of passion and the souls lonely search to find it once more. Performed in their home space, Junction Box, the experience becomes intimate, vibrational as the dancers engage and envelope the audience, just as the fairy cursed into the guise of the magpie wraps true love inside her wings. The original composition, written by Denver Singer/Songwriter Jesse Manley is elegant and haunting, winding you into this sensual allegory of the season. Ammon’s collaborative spirit brings Kristopher Collins to the house to surround the space with a collage of mysterious projections creating a world of layered reality. Scents, curated by Michelle Roark, and flavors provided by local eateries are part of the journey, rounding out the sensory experience. Winter is stunning and unlike anything I’ve seen. This gorgeous, masterful fairytale allowed me the privilege of going deep into the dark of winter, and the hope that spring would come again. Running on December 8-10 & 15-17 with two shows a night, audiences will have the opportunity to choose between an appetizer and dessert show. Tickets here.

If snark and Sedaris is your cup of nog, there’s the Santaland Diaries, a one-man show starring Michael Brouchard as the grumpy Macy’s elf voicing all we hate about the whole affair. An irreverent, hilarious, and somewhat bitter little candy cane, guaranteed to make you smirk.

Another Denver Christmas tradition, Balls! wraps up a six year run as some of Denver’s finest and funniest performers gather their sock puppets for an evening of story, song and Christmas spirit. This year’s beneficiary is The Gathering Place as Balls! rolls into Lannie’s Clocktower Caberet for two nights, Dec. 7th & 14th, doors open at 6:00 to enjoy the food and full bar, show starts at 7:00. Tickets here.

There’s so much more to do in our little postcard, the holidays look good on Denver. But this is my list of the naughty and nice, sure to pull me off the couch.
“God bless us everyone!”

I ambled downtown to the Junction Box, the new Wonderbound studio, to check out the space, witness the alchemy and have a chat with the wizard himself. The doors wide open policy at this vibrant new studio is perhaps the defining quality of the Wonderbound company. Walkers, wanderers and wayfarers are welcome to watch as Garrett and his lithesome dancers spread their joy, leaping tirelessly from repetition to repetition, stretching for perfection. Rush hour traffic idles, a homeless neighbor stops mid-shuffle and sways dreamily to the music. It’s all part of the soundtrack of community.
One of only a handful of American choreographers to be constantly presenting new works, I sat down with Ammon post-rehearsal for their new show, A Gothic Folktale to talk tutu. (I love when he does that).
Garrett_Ammon_2
TS- So, Innovator… about this award.
GA- Oh my god, it’s humbling. I mean, I’ve had so many opportunities to meet and work with some amazing people. I’m just a part of something much bigger.
No false modesty here, when Garrett speaks his authenticity draws you into his world. His vision is keen, his voice is clear and the feeling is that of an artist at peace with passion.
TS- Being a Realtor, I have to ask. How have things changed in the new space?
GA- Oh, completely, it truly fits our identity; the sense of urgency that urbanism creates, it expands on our relationship with our audience, and the need to make dance accessible.
TS- Denver really responds to you, like you’re our dance company. Why do you think that is?
GA- Hmmn. That’s nice. I think part of it is about how your art engages the world, your personal world and the larger. So dance, movement, exists in relationship to space, to humanity, but it also pushes the internals. I feel really connected, not just to the concept of connectedness, but to the energy of that union which exists in community. It’s like you embrace it, and—
TS- You build relationships.
GA- Yes.
TS- So the Arts Innovation Award is kinda like the city hugging you back.
GA- It feels that way, yes.
TS- Why do you think you’ve succeeded in creating this kind of intimate relationship with Denver?
( a long pause.)
GA- Because we’re not afraid to fail. Because we work really, really hard. And because at the end of the day, we want the same thing as everyone else in this city: to be fulfilled, to do something we’re passionate about, to be able to make a living doing what we love.
He looks out the open door at the river of cars.
GA- Isn’t that what we all want?
TS- What do you want?
GA- I want to keep pushing myself, of course. I don’t want to do the same thing because it’s that thing, so there’s that part. If I can build and sustain this company so that its members can live, you know, buy a house and really make this a career, that would be a great success.
TS- I love that. Especially the ‘buying a house’ part.
(laughs)
The Mayors Awards for Excellence in Arts and Culture will be presented to the recipients on November 14 from 6:30-8:00 PM at the Studio Loft. The event is free and open to the public. http://artsandvenuesdenver.com/events-programs/mayors-awards/
A Gothic FolktaleThe magic of autumn burns golden in its fiery leaves, reflecting on Denver’s cultural scene as it springs back to life. While the rest of us spent the summer at the beach and the ballpark, Denver’s creative community has been crafting their 2013-14 offerings. A highlight for me is the launch of Wonderbound’s inaugural season as they leap to life with a new work called A Gothic Folktale. The magic in Artistic Director, Garrett Ammon’s, choreography is often born in collaboration with other carefully selected artists, this time Denver musician, Jesse Manley, and mentalist Professor Phelyx are the lucky partners in the sublime. The effect is more than just magical, with its haunting strains and evocative story, the show is mysterious, engaging and even soothing as you lilt away to another time and place. The Wonderbound website vows to invert my reality: it was definitely twisted at the Sunday show. I took my fourteen year old son (not always an easy thing to do) and even he was transfixed. We were discussing the performance, elements of dance, the music and illusion, and then he pops out with my favorite observation. He looked at the audience that Wonderbound brings together, mix of ages and styles, and says, “Mom, this is the most interesting looking group of people I’ve ever seen in one room. It’s like the all have a really good secret in life.” Which they do. Well done, Mr. Ammon.
A Gothic Folktale plays this weekend, October 26th & 27th at the Parker Arts and Cultural Center. Tickets available.

If you’ve never had the joy of experiencing Ballet Nouveau Colorado’s Carry On with Paper Bird, you should consider giving yourself a gift. A dreamy collaboration of spirits which weaves the innovative choreography of BNC with an original score from indie folk fav, Paper Bird. Part love story, part natural phenomenon, it’s as magical as the Aurora Borealis on an open plain.
Read more on my Huffington Post blog as I kvell about the show and my conversation with Ballet Nouveau Artistic Director, Garret Ammons.
Carry On with Paper Bird, one night only. Friday night 9/7, at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, presented by Arts & Venues Denver as part of the Western Arts Alliance Annual Conference. Tickets to one of my favorite things on the planet are available through TICKETMASTER.